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Andy Narell - Steel panist
When Steel Talks - Special - Exclusive Interview


Andy Narell
Arranger, Musician, Producer


Even though Sakésho’s sophomore release called We Want You To Say was the reason for the chat, when one has the opportunity to catch up with steel pannist Andy Narell, there will always be other additional musical morsels to digest within the same time and space.  This occasion was a prime example.   Arguably the busiest man on the planet in today's steelband world, Andy Narell was in Mississippi on the morning of Tuesday March 22 as he chatted with When Steel Talks via telephone.  A joint steelband performance by Narell and the University of Southern Mississippi's Steel Orchestra the previous evening had brought splendid closure to a steelband camp/workshop run at the University during its annual Spring break.   Without the pressures of school, the University's eager steelpan musicians devoted as much as six hours daily for four days of "steelband camp" culminating in the performance on the evening of Monday March 21.

We Want You To Say  is the 2005 sophomore follow-up to the self-titled debut CD from the group called Sakésho (pronounced sah kay show), which is creole for “it's going to be hot.”    And the band has been blazing a musical trail in the two years that have passed in between its two releases.   According to Narell, the latest CD "reflects what the band has been doing on stage, [while] growing together and playing together a whole lot."   The CD reflects different styles and rhythms of the French Caribbean countries.   The Sakésho quartet brings together bassist Michel Alibo and pianist Mario Canonge from Martinique, drummer Jean Philippe Fanfant from Guadeloupe, and Narell on steelpans.   The latter said that the approach to this CD was much "like a traditional jazz recording - the band [went] in the studio to capture the way they play [live] together."

Lightheartedly but with full respect for his fellow band mates, Narell describes Sakésho as a "leaderless band" who have played a lot of gigs together.   They came into being back in 1993 when Narell "saw the amazing chemistry going on between the other guys [Alibo, Fanfant and Canonge], and he tried to fit in.  The eventual  decision to come together as a band, as opposed to just musicians who gigged together whenever their schedules permitted, transpired at the same time that Andy decided to move to Paris in 2001.   In fact Sakésho was one-half the reason that Paris, and not New York, was where the steel pannist ended up making his home.  The other reason was Narell's discovery of and subsequent desire to work with, Calypsociation, the French Steelband he eventually went on to record an album with entitled "The Passage."

Andy Narell acknowledges that being part of Sakésho has been a tremendous education for him.   The other musicians are celebrated and versatile performers and composers in their own right.  Of Michel Alibo, Narell says that he is the most recorded bass player in all of African Music; Mario Canonge is a revered composer and pianist, and Jean Philippe Fanfant is an "in-demand heavyweight drummer who is playing with just about every body!"   His percussive abilities run the gamut - from African to Caribbean to Pop music.  In fact, Narell laughingly says that currently Sakésho could not gig as Fanfant is currently contracted for the French version of the hugely successful programme American Idol!  The four musicians all composed tracks for We Want You To Say, which contains nine tracks.   The last one which is written by Narell, is called Izo's Mood; it is his acknowledgement of Isaac's - his 20-year old son - invaluable assistance in putting the track together. 

Asked about the main change over the quartet's more than 11-year history, it was Narell's opinion that "they 'became a band,' evolving from just musicians who played well whenever they were on stage together."    Narell added that African and Caribbean musicians had taken over the Parisian music scene; it would appear therefore that Sakésho is extremely well positioned for continued success on that circuit.   He notes that there was an entire generation of European musicians, (especially the French) who had grown up listening to the performances of Caribbean and African musicians whose influences took root there.  This compliments the overarching American Jazz influence of the 20th century.   "African and Caribbean musicians have taken over, 'that's who everybody wants to play like'" declared Narell.

Touching on Calypsociation, Narell revealed that the core membership of 25 musicians have just about two and one-half hours of an all-original repertoire he wrote, and that he expected to work on his second CD with the French steel orchestra soon, with just one more song remaining to complete the music for that CD album.   Calypsociation and Narell recently completed a tour of the US West Coast which started in San Francisco and ended with their appearance at the Portland Jazz Festival.   With regard to the promotion of We Want You To Say, Narell said that the band expected to do some festivals in the Eastern US and in Canada, with the possibility of a New York gig in early July 2005.    Sakésho’s We Want You To Say was officially released on the Heads Up International label March 22, 2005.

C. Phillips, Basement Press Corp.

©2005 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

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